As a natural alternative to antidepressants, three herbs stand out in the treatment of depression. All three of these ‘depression herbs’ come with extensive clinical testing, mostly in Europe.
Despite the hype, depression herbs are really not much more effective than prescription depression medications. The main advantages to using depression herbs:
- Depression herbs cost less – a lot less
- Depression herbs have much fewer side effects
- Depression herbs are easier to obtain
The disadvantage of using depression herbs lies in the fact that no uniform standards exist regarding the quality of the herbs. Also, the ‘shelf life’ of the depression herbs is a concern. The longer a bottle of herbs ‘sits around’ – the greater the potential for degradation of the active ingredients. The fresher the herbs, the better.
Selecting a reputable company becomes the highest priority when choosing to use herbs for depression. Any company that promotes muscle testing of their products should be highly regarded.
The Depression Herbs
St. John’s Wort
Perhaps the most well-known and certainly most-studied herb for depression is St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum.
Over twenty-five double-blind studies have shown St. John’s wort to produce equal or better results than standard depression medication drugs. Here’s just a few of those studies:
- P. Morazzoni and E. Bombardelli, “Hypericum perforatum” Fitoterapia 66 (1995): 43-68.
- G. Harrer and V. Schultz, “Clinical Investigation of the Antidepressant Effectiveness of Hypericum”, J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol 7(Suppl 1) (1994): S6-8.
- P.A.G. De Smet and W. Nolen, “St. John’s Wort as an Antidepressant”, BMJ 313 (1996): 241-2.
- P. Halama, “Efficacy of the Hypericum Extract LI 160 in the Treatment of 50 Patients of a Psychiatrist”, Nervenheilkunde 10 (1991): 305-7.
- D. Hansgren, J. Vesper, and M. Ploch, “Multicenter Double-Blind Study Examining the Antidepressant Effectiveness of the Hypericum Extract LI 160″, J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol 7(Suppl 1) (1994): S15-8.
- G. Harrer and H. Sommer, “Treatment of Mild/Moderate Depressions with Hypericum”, Phytomed 1 (1994): 3-8.
- W.D. Hubner, S. Lande, and H. Podzuweit, “Hypericum Treatment of Mild Depressions with Somatic Symptoms”, J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol 7(Suppl 1) (1994): S12-4.
- U. Schmidt and H. Sommer, “St. John’s Wort Extract in the Ambulatory Therapy of Depression: Attention and Reaction Abililty Are Preserved”, Fortschr Med 111 (1993): 339-42.
Rather than the whole herb, researchers worked with an extract of St. John’s wort – hypericin, usually standardized to 0.3%. This extract was shown to produce improvements in many psychological symptoms, including depression, anxiety, apathy, sleep disturbances, insomnia, anorexia, and feelings of worthlessness.
The major side effect of this depression herb was mild stomach irritation.
St. John’s wort compares to a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, (MAOI) and should never be combined with any other antidepressant medication.
Kava, Piper methysticum, has also demonstated efficacy in reducing the symptoms of depression, especially when the depression is accompanied with severe anxiety. This depression herb is also used for insomnia and restlessness.
Like St. John’s wort, kava studies are based on an extract of the herb, kavalactone. This extract compares favorably with benzodiazepines without the side effects or the addictive qualities.
Here’s a list of a few studies regarding the extract (usually 30 to 70% kavalactone) of this depression herb:
- Y. Singh, “Kava: An Overview”, J Ethnopharmacol37 (1992): 13-45.
- D. Lindenberg and H. Pitule-Schodel, “D,L-kavain in Comparison with Oxazepam in Anxiety Disorders: A Double-Blind Study of Clinical Effectiveness”, Forschr Med 108 (1990): 49-50, 53-4.
- E. Kinzler, J. Kromer, and E. Lehmann, “Clinical Efficacy of a Kava Extract in Patients with Anxiety Syndrome: Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Study Over 4 Weeks”, Arzneim Forsch 41 (1991): 584-8.
Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba has also demonstated good antidepressant effects, especially in patients over the age of fifty. (And keep in mind that ginkgo also acts as a blood thinner so it may or may not be appropriate for you.)
The following studies of this depression herb again used an extract – 24% standardized ginkgo flavonglycosides and 6% terpenoids.
- F.V. DeFeudis, ed., Ginko biloba Extract (Egb 761): Pharmacological Activities and Clinical Applications (Paris: Elsevier, 1991).
- E.W. Funfgeld, ed., Rokan (Ginkgo biloba). Recent Results in Pharmacology and Clinic (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998).
- J. Kleijnen and P. Knipschild, “Ginkgo biloba”, Lancet 340 (1992): 1136-9.
- J. Kleijnen and P. Knipschild, “Ginkgo biloba for Cerebral Insufficiency”, Br J Clinical Pharmacol 34 (1992): 352-8.This last study (listed below) is particularly noteworthy because all the depressed subjects had not responded well to prescription depression medications.
Patients were given 80 mg. of ginkgo extract three times per day, along with their normal antidepressant drug.
- H. Schubert and P. Halama, “Depressive Episode Primarily Unresponsive to Therapy in Elderly Patients: Efficacy of Ginkgo biloba (Egb 761) in Combination with Antidepressants”, Geriatr Forsch 3 (1993): 45-53.
Depression herbs are not for everybody; they won’t help in every case. Still, being less ‘invasive’ than prescription antidepressants, they offer a good first option to those of us who instinctively want to reach for a pill whenever something goes wrong.
In addition to reading about these depression herbs, you also need to understand the hidden energies that create the depression in the first place.
I almost feel guilty because my life has become so enjoyable and so easy. Especially since I remember how miserable I used to be.
Basically it comes down to making one slight shift in what you do everyday, and you can watch in amazement as your life slowly begins to start working out in almost every way.
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